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How to explore New York City on a budget

How to explore New York City on a budget



NYC. The largest, most densely populated city in the United States.

Its five distinct boroughs are connected by subway, bus and ferry.

Drawing millions of tourists annually (Curbed reports 62 million tourists last year), it is an exciting but equally daunting destination.

And, it’s expensive. But it is possible to visit NYC on a budget. Here’s how.


Don’t stay in Midtown

Midtown Manhattan is a popular area for tourists to book hotels because it is close to Times Square and other major attractions. This area is convenient but will also be the most expensive option. The best way to cut costs on accommodation is to consider

Type of accommodation: if you are traveling alone, a hostel dorm bed is your cheapest option.

Location of accommodation: New York is so well connected by public transport, that staying outside of midtown won’t hinder your ability to explore and enjoy. Neighborhoods like Brooklyn, Greenpoint, Harlem and Bushwick are more economical areas to stay.

Time of year: you will save significantly on accommodation if you time your visit for the down season, January to April. But be warned, it may be snowy in NYC.  

Eat cheap & local

NYC has an incredible food scene, and there are ways to enjoy this food scene without blowing your budget.

Eat local street food: The street food of NYC is found on carts and trucks! From Indian food to falafel, pizza to hotdogs, you can find it all on the street. These meals won’t typically cost you more than 8 USD, which is great by NYC standards! Some famous food trucks you can visit are, and

Bagels bagels bagels: I survive off NYC bagels every time I visit the city. Bagel shops (and bagel carts) are available everywhere. Truly. For less than 10 USD, you can get yourself a delicious freshly baked bagel with all the dressings, plus a coffee! There’s your breakfast and lunch, covered.

Bodega sandwiches: Many of the bodegas make sandwiches to go. For the ultimate cheapie, a bodega sandwich or falafel is your best bet!


Take local transit

The complex New York subway system can be overwhelming. But by braving it you will save on transport costs immensely and have a glimpse into the hectic rush that NYC is famous for. I always enjoy taking the subway. Many stations have free Wi-Fi, you meet and see interesting people, and you can pretend you’re in an episode of Broad City while you ride. Some things that will help you on your subway adventures:

Transit apps: There are many transit apps for NYC. Citymapper and MyTransit NYC seem to be the best ones. Citymapper will show you nearby Uber pick-up locations and MyTransit NYC can tell you how busy specific train lines are.

Subway Wi-Fi: If you haven’t splurged on mobile data, you can rely on the free subway Wi-Fi. Every sing subway station in NYC has 1 hour of free Wi-Fi. Take advantage!

Use Group-On

If you are a good planner, take advantage of Groupon Deals. They can snag you discounts for museums, activities, and restaurants. Be sure to read the fine print as Groupons will often have annoying conditions (specific times or days that it can’t be redeemed).

Take advantage of cheap or free (!) attractions

There is plenty to do and see in NYC that is free, or affordable. Here is a list of hacks to fill up your day and enjoy the city, on a budget:

  • Wander Central Park by foot or by bike. A bike rental for 2 hours is approximately 20 USD, or, bring some snacks and enjoy a picnic.

  • See the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island ferry. The ferry costs only a couple dollars and sails right past the statue.

  • Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It is a long walk but will yield beautiful views of both Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can combine this with the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is usually bustling with activities.

  • View the Brooklyn Bridge from Dumbo. The Brooklyn neighborhood Dumbo, at the intersection of Washington St and Front St had become a popular spot for tourists and photographers. While standing at this intersection, a gorgeous view of the Brooklyn Bridge can be seen.

  • The Museum of Modern Art is free on every Friday, from 4:00pm to 8:00pm.

  • On weekdays, you can reserve a free tour of the Federal Bank of New York’s Gold Vault. See here:

  • You can visit Alexander Hamilton’s Harlem Estate entirely free! See here:

  • Walk the highline. For added fun, visit on a Tuesday at dusk. The Amateur Astronomer’s Association sets up telescopes for the public to do some stargazing.

  • During the summer, outdoor movies are shown for free, usually around sunset. The schedule changes annually, so use your Google skills for up to date info.

  • Head to Coney Island for the beach and boardwalk! Other beaches that are free to visit include Fort Tilden, the Rockaways, and Brighton Beach.

  • Tour the Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg for free! Tours are run on the weekend. Get there early to snag a ticket.

  • See a live taping of a daytime or late-night talk show. These shows are entirely free to attend. All you have to do is put in a request for a ticket, here:

  • Domino Park is a new waterfront park in Brooklyn. It has beautiful views, an elevated board walk, a “fog bridge,” café and a dog run! I’d go just for the dogs.

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